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I’ve Lost My Head


By Jonathan van Bilsen


Religion is a very personal thing and that is why I never bring it up in my column. History, however, is quite different, and I just came across an interesting story about the head of John the Baptist.

Just like any regular person, John the Baptist likely only had one head. But here is the twist: apparently, there are at least four spots worldwide claiming to have his skull. I am trying to wrap my head around that statement.

John the Baptist was not just your run-of-the-mill preacher. He was the man who baptized Jesus, often tagged as the forerunner of Christ. He was also Jesus's cousin. John the Baptist was so into his beliefs that he ended up dying for them.

So, how did he meet his end? Well, the story goes, and it seems no one disputes the fact, that he was beheaded. So, what happened to his head? Well, that is where things get a bit murky; thanks to the whole relic-trading era that was all the rage back in the Middle Ages.

One place claiming to have his head is the Basilica of San Silvestro in Capite, Rome. Another is the Amiens Cathedral in France, which was built just to house the head a Crusader supposedly brought back from Constantinople way in 1206.

According to the Bible's books by Matthew, Mark and Luke—King Herod, ruler of Galilee, ordered the beheading. Why? Because John publicly denounced him for marrying his brother's ex-wife. Quite the dysfunctional family. Long story short, John's body ended up buried in Sebastia, Palestine, but his head went on a wild ride across the region, being buried and reburied by numerous entities.

As Christianity spread, so did the trade in holy relics—artefacts from the past were considered sacred. John the Baptist’s head was considered the most sacred of them all, so everyone wanted a piece of it, leading to a number of claims and counterclaims over who had the actual relic.

Fast forward to today, and we have scholars still arguing over who has the legitimate head

In my travels, I have seen the finger of Saint Peter, two spears used to stab Christ on the Cross a piece of Noah’s ark, a tooth belonging to Buddha, the remains of St. Christopher and now I will have to go on a quest to view the missing head.

All the best for a very happy Easter.

Jonathan van Bilsen is a television host, award winning photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker. Watch his show, ‘Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel’, on RogersTV, the Standard Website or YouTube.

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